The Cowboys opened the football season with an emotional celebration, knocking off Missouri, a 16 1/2-point favorite from the powerful Southeast Conference, 37-31, rallying from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit , and then blunting a fourth-quarter comeback against by the Tigers.
Week two was the wake up call. For all the Cowboys accomplished against Missouri the reality hit at Texas State on Saturday night when the Cowboys found themselves heading into the final three minutes of the first half on the short-end of a 14-3 score.
"They came out and punched us in the mouth," said quarterback Sean Chambers. "We knew we had our work cut out in the second half."
The Cowboys, however accepted the challenge. They shutdown Texas State's offense, keeping them from scoring in the final 41:15 of the game, and opening the way for Wyoming to pull out a 23-14 win that sent a message to a relatively young Wyoming team that features more freshman (13) and seniors (11) on its offense/defense two deep.
"Sometimes when you are younger and your parent will tell you something and you go `yeah, yeah, yeah, I got it,'" said coach Craig Bohl.
Football players are no different.
But what was transpiring in San Marcos, Texas, on Saturday night got them to pay attention.
"They came out and punched us in the mouth," said Chambers, a redshirt freshman. "We knew we had our work cut out for us in the second half."
And they responded to the challenge, underscored by senior cornerback Tyler Hall's 72-yard interception return with 8:36 remaining in the third quarter giving the Cowboys a 20-14 lead.
It was a defensive display that got the job done, a bit like those Cowboys teams of the `60s with Fritz Shurmur running the defense. They took their lumps when Texas State was scoring its two touchdowns, more than doubling the Cowboys' yards (262-126). They were near even in second-half yards, Texas State with a slight edge (182-167).
But the Cowboys had the big plays, highlighted by Hall's pick-six, the result of having done a quick study at what went wrong in the opening 30 minutes.
“I would say that play came in the first quarter,” Hall said. “I got the same play in the first quarter, and it’s all about picking up tendencies throughout the game. One of the tendencies was the quarterback didn’t throw too many shots on us on the outside. They pretty much sat it down when they were going vertical, so I just trusted it. The quarterback threw it, and I just made a play.”
That was a redeeming moment on Saturday, but it did not create a false sense of the growth the Cowboys still have to attain if they want to turn this season into something special.
This is a team that won it's final four games a year ago to become Bowl Eligible, and rolled up 1,199 yards rushing in those games, despite the fact the duo of Chambers (who rushed for 329 yards in 2 1/2 games of action) and running back Nico Evans (1,325 yards in nine games) missed all but a hand full of plays in the final two games of the season. It has only 304 yards rushing this season.
And Chambers followed up a 6-for-16, 120-yard passing effort against Missouri in the opener by completing only 8 of 18 attempts for 103 yards against Texas State.
"The bottom line is I have to get receivers the ball and make plays," he said.
The key is Chambers and his teammates all realize that the 2-0 start doesn't obscure the fact they have to get better to be the factor they want to be in the Mountain West Conference race.
They got that wake up call a year ago.
They were bowl eligible at 6-6, and they became wallflowers, one of four bowl eligible teams that spent the month of December at home, watching the bowl games on TV.